When fourth-grade teacher Heidi Robertson begins a children's opera project at the North Summit Elementary School, she never knows what will happen or where it will take her.
"It's really a leap of faith," Robertson said. "My fourth-grade classes have written operas which took place in a Utah classroom the first year, a California junkyard the next, on planet Mars after that, and a Las Vegas casino the following year."
This year's opera, which will be held at the school on Monday, May 20, is a spoof on recent sporting events involving performance-enhancing drugs and Olympic doping.
"The operas we have produced in my classes at North Summit Elementary tend to have a moral to their stories," Robertson said. "This year's message tells the world to take a stand against drugs and reminds the audience that the most important thing in athletics is the struggle, not the win. We embrace the Olympic creed to inspire."
Created by fourth graders, "Sports Dorks: A Crazy Olympics" takes place in the future at the Summer Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The main antagonist is "Lance Legstrong," who poses as a drug tester but whose real intent is to exact revenge against the International Olympic Committee for barring him from the Games. He makes some of the athletes sick and causes one of the girl gymnasts to grow a beard. Things look bleak for all the athletes until something good happens and there is a happy ending (no spoiler alert here).
The children wrote the libretto, the opera's script, and learned the recitative, a style of delivery in which narrative speech is sung. The Utah Festival Opera and Musical Theatre, which administers this in-school arts education program, sends a professional composer to the school who listens to the children singing and their ideas for lyrics. The composer then writes the musical score.
"Our performance is an opera, not a musical," Robertson explained. "The entire performance is sung, there is no dialogue. The children learn opera terms like libretto and recitative. They learn staging, scoring, blocking, singing and all the backstage skills of a real opera."
There are parts for everyone in the class. Fourth graders who are gymnasts will perform acrobatics. A mock swim race and a relay race will be held on stage, while a camera crew from 'US-KSL' will be 'filming.' One student will play the President of the IOC and other students will play his body guards. And, of course, there is the leading role of 'villain' Lance Legstrong himself, according to Robertson.
For the March 20 performance, Robin Knudsen of Henefer will play the piano. She has been instrumental at all the student's rehearsals and performances, said Robertson.
"Hannah Wilde, the head of the art department at North Summit High School, and her art students have also been essential to the program's success," Robertson said. "They collaborate on the scenery painting. Their work as mentors with the younger students has been invaluable. We also involve the parents in facilitating in student-made costumes, scenery and organizing on the evening of the performance."
The Logan-based "Opera by Children" program created by Michael Ballam provides teachers with support at the outset of their involvement. Professional artists travel to the participating school to work in classrooms with the students and provide professional development sessions for the lead teacher.
"I am grateful that Principal Lori O'Connor is supportive of the arts at the North Summit Elementary School and gives me the freedom to do this project," Mrs. Robertson concluded. "I see the value of the arts for children. It blesses the children's lives in so many ways -- in ways they will carry into the future."
For more information about "Opera by Children," go to http://www.operabychildren.org or call 336-2101. "Sports Dorks: A Crazy Olympics" will be held on Monday, May 20th at 7 pm at the North Summit Elementary School, 240 S. Beacon Drive, located in Coalville.